With Forbes publishing their list of the most powerful people on the planet this week, it got me thinking: who are the most powerful people in Azeroth at the start of Cataclysm? For the purposes of this list, I've only included humanoids; dragons, demons and the like have been left out.
I'm sure your list will differ, so debate away!
1. The Jailer of the Damned
Straight in at number one this year, Bolvar Fordragon has taken on what is probably the hardest (and most powerful) roles Azeroth has to offer. With the fall of Arthas, Bolvar heroically sacrificed himself to take control of the Scourge and prevent it running amok in Azeroth. Bolvar vies with Thrall as one of the nicest guys in Azeroth, but the fact remains that whatever is left of him controls a giant army of undead minions. Should he choose to unleash it, for good or evil, it would be the most powerful force on Azeroth once more, under his complete control. All of this makes him the most powerful person on Azeroth.
Even under the relatively close oversight of Thrall, Sylvanas's apothecaries managed to create a blight so powerful that it harmed Arthas himself. Under the unsophisticated supervision of Garrosh, she has thrived, using both military might and Azeroth's equivalent of WMD to cut a swathe through Gilneas. A Lich Queen in all but name, her authority at home is unquestioned and her forces were barely halted at Gilneas City. For any other playable faction, the question "would they win if they took on the whole of Azeroth?" has a clear answer: "no". For the Forsaken it's "hmmmm, maybe...if they planned it right." That's what makes Sylvanas the number two on this list.
Repulsive egomaniac he may be, but you have to hand it to Varian when it comes to old-fashioned rule by force. He's building castles to keep the peasants from revolting and his troops are everywhere. As a result, there's no serious challenge to his leadership of his nation and he has a large and disciplined army. That makes him number three.
He may be this year's biggest faller, but Thrall still matters more than any other orc. Despite handing over the formal title of Warchief to Garrosh, if Thrall ever came back to reclaim the title, all but a hardcore group of Garrosh loyalists would welcome him with open arms. Couple this with his links into the Earthen Ring and he's still one of the most powerful people in Azeroth. He may be a little busy being loved-up with Aggra right now, but the old fella's still got it.
5. Trade Prince Steamwheedle
Azeroth's man of mystery. We don't even know the real name of the head of the Steamwheedle Cartel, but they're everywhere. He may not have a large standing army, but he's got the resources to hire one pretty quickly if he needs to. His neutral position between the Alliance and Horde, combined with huge wealth, gives him huge bargaining power, Cataclysm or no.
A member of both the Shadow Council and Chief of the Twilight's hammer clan, Cho'gall is one of the major forces behind the Cataclysm. He'd rate more highly if he was his own man (or should that be ogre? ogres?), but he's really just a pawn for C'Thun.
7= Tyrande Whisperwind / Malfurion Stormrage
Whilst the night elves aren't the greatest force in Azeroth, Tyrande and Malfurion are arguably the wisest leaders out there, so they make the best of limited resources, which gives them influence beyond mere numbers.
9. Varok Saurfang
He may be sitting on his backside in Northrend at the moment, but the Orcish military's true loyalty lies with Saurfang, not Garrosh. If it came to a power struggle, there's no doubting who the winner would be. Saurfang may be holding back for now, but his is real power of the "boots on the ground" variety, which beats official titles every time.
10. Muradin Bronzebeard
The newly unified dwarf nation is a potentially powerful force, but is riven by divisions. The loyalty of Moira Thaurissan and her Dark Iron followers is questionable at best and betrayal from within is a real possibility. This makes Muradin's hold on power rather tenuous, even if the forces he commands are theoretically strong.
11. Garrosh Hellscream
What? The Warchief of the Horde outside the top 10? In normal times, this would seem strange, but Garrosh is in a very weak position right now. He doesn't even have the full backing of orcs themselves, let alone the rest of the horde. The Tauren mistrust him after what happened with Cairne, Vol'jin's trolls are close to seceding, and Sylvanas openly defies him. Garrosh is the classic case of "all mouth and no trousers". He talks big, but his true power is very limited.
Despite winning Azerothian Paperclip Collector's Man Of The Year for the third year running, Lor'Themar has yet to show that his unrivalled skills in the efficient procurement of office stationery translate to the broader world stage. His simple slogan of "Hey, at least I'm not Kael'Thas" is enough to keep him in power for now, but in times of war, the Sin'dorei may turn to more experienced leaders such as Liadrin.
13. Moira Thaurissan
Moira's Dark Irons may be mistrusted by the other dwarves, but her heritage gives her a powerful claim to the throne that some may support. A bid for power may not be too far away.
14. Magatha Grimtotem
Following her involvement with the death of Cairne, Magatha has lost her direct influence in Thunder Bluff. However, the Grimtotem are still a strong force and her links to Twilight's Hammer mean she may rise again.
15. Baine Bloodhoof
The tauren are a proud and noble people, but their leader has been thrust into the job unexpectedly, in a situation where mistrust between the tauren and orcs is at an all-time high. It's not yet clear whether Baine has the skills to handle this situation.
16. Jaina Proudmoore
Whilst the forces under her direct command are limited, they are supplemented by her powerful magic, particularly her unique: "make an army size portal to anywhere whenever the plot demands it" spell. This would make them an effective fighting force in practice, as they could run rings around conventional armies.
Vol'jin is skilled leader and a hero to his people, having led them to their new home in the newly renamed Darkspear Isles. However, the Darkspear are few and he has powerful enemies, not least Garrosh himself. It will take all Vol'jin's skill to keep himself and his people alive through the troubled times of Cataclysm.
18. Genn Greymane
The people of Gilneas were once a powerful nation, but the Worgen curse and subsequent Forsaken invasion have hit them hard. They are a homeless people now, and would struggle without the assistance of the Alliance. However, the leadership skils Genn has shown during the recent years of turmoil should see them rebuild rapidly.
19. Trade Prince Gallywix
Probably the least secure of all the faction leaders in his position, he has a rag-tag band of Goblins under him, who mostly hate his guts. Getting out of that sticky situation may prove a little tricky for a minor trade prince.
20. Gelbin Mekkatorque
He may have a mechanostrider with frikkin' laser beams, but Mekkatorque couldn't even organise the retaking of Gnomeregan from a bunch of Troggs. His real power is very limited.